EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Daniel Jones was asked this week if the Giants' clash tomorrow night with the Washington Commanders is the biggest game of his career.
"I think it's a really big game for all of us," Jones said. "It's a big divisional game on the road in December. Yeah, it's a big game for us."
It certainly is. The 180th regular season meeting between franchises that first squared off 90 years ago comes just two weeks after they played a 20-20 tie in MetLife Stadium. Both teams are 7-5-1 and currently occupy the NFC's final two playoff positions. Washington is in the sixth spot because it has a superior divisional record (1-2-1 to 0-3-1).
Each team would view an opportunity to play a postseason game as a significant milestone. The Giants last made the playoffs in 2016 and have not won a postseason game since Super Bowl XLVI in 2011. As Giants fans surely remember, Washington was the NFC East champion two years ago with a 7-9 record, but last won a playoff game in 2005.
"I don't think we're going to have any issue getting amped up or getting excited for this game," Jones said. "I think everyone realizes the opportunity and how big a game this is, Sunday Night Football. Nobody is going to have an issue getting amped up for it."
The teams arrive at this game from opposite directions. The Giants are 0-3-1 in their last four games and 1-4-1 in their last six. Washington is 3-0-1 in its last four and 6-1-1 in its last eight. The Commanders were off last week, while the Giants were beaten by Philadelphia, 48-22.
"We're going through a rough patch right now," running back Saquon Barkley said. "We're not playing well and that's it, that's on us. We've got to play better, but we've showed what we can do. We played against some really good teams early in the season and we beat some really good teams and that's the reason why we're in this position to be able to put ourselves in the tournament, put ourselves where everyone's goal is to be, in the playoffs and play meaningful games in December. If we weren't talented and we weren't a good team, you know we wouldn't be in this situation and we are. So now we've got to double down, continue to believe in each other and it starts with all of us. It starts with myself, it starts with the leaders, and get ready to come out this week and get ready for a big game."
The Giants must overcome their recent difficulties under the lights. They have lost 11 consecutive prime time games, including a Monday night loss to Dallas on Sept. 26. They haven't won at night since Nov. 12, 2018, when they beat the 49ers, 27-23, on a Monday night.
"That's a crazy stat," Barkley said of the 11-game primetime skid. "But guess what? We get an opportunity to change that. And I guess those 11 games we lost, we weren't as successful as we were previously. We're a successful team this year. We're a different team this year than we were in the past. We're getting that opportunity in another primetime game to go show that, and I feel like if we continue to trust each other, lean on each other, get that power and belief back, go out there, play for each other, anything can happen, right?"
View rare photos of the all-time series between the New York Giants and the Washington Commanders.
Jones is 0-9 in primetime games – but he's never played in a Sunday night game. The Giants have played only one in his four seasons, against Cleveland on Dec. 20, 2020. Like the game tomorrow, that one was flexed to Sunday night because it was deemed an attractive matchup. But Jones was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Colt McCoy started at quarterback and didn't get the offense into the end zone in a 20-6 loss.
"I think I don't make a ton of it," Jones said of his record at night. "I think each game is different, and we haven't won enough games period around here. I'm excited for the opportunity."
The Giants didn't capitalize on several opportunities they had in the first game against Washington. They scored on four consecutive offensive possessions spanning the second and third quarters, but the offense stalled otherwise.
"There's always a lot (of plays that haunt you)," coach Brian Daboll said. "A bunch of them. There's usually, when you're in close games like that, there's four or five plays. You don't know when they're going to happen, it could have been in the fourth quarter, first quarter that if you make them, it gives your team a much better chance to win when those close games are 20-20, 17-14. There's always one play here or there. You never know when it's going to be. Usually about four, five, six of them. Learned that from coach (Marty) Schottenheimer."
"In the first game on the offensive side of the ball, especially the offensive line, we left a lot of plays on the field, just errors, missed assignments, things like that," tackle Andrew Thomas said. "Obviously, (they're) a very talented front seven, but we got to eliminate the errors to give ourselves a chance to win."
Despite its clear consequence, Daboll has refused to treat this game as more significant than the other 16 on the schedule.
"I just think it's important to do the things you need to do to get ready to play the game," he said. "I've been in a wide variety of situations as an assistant, as a coordinator and I'm not saying it's right or wrong, that's just my philosophy. Let's focus on what we can control and that's the most important (thing). How we prepare, ultimately how we go out there and play and coach, that's what really makes the difference. What if this happens? None of that really matters."
Nor, Daboll said, do detailed studies of the numerous permutations of the conference playoff picture.
"You got to focus on what's ahead of you, which is what the most important thing is – which is not easy to do for people that work: players, coaches, organizations," Daboll said. "Does no good looking four weeks ahead, three weeks ahead. You got to focus on what's the most important, that's just what I believe in."
That message has been received and validated by the players – who are also keenly aware of how important the game tomorrow is. A victory would provide a major boost to the Giants' postseason chances but guarantee nothing. In the last three weeks, they play difficult road games at Minnesota and Philadelphia – currently the NFC's top seeds – plus a home game against Indianapolis.
"Coach Daboll always says, 'What we do in December is what people remember,'" Thomas said. "These games mean the most, and we're blessed to have our opportunity to compete, have an opportunity to play in the playoffs. So, we're looking forward to the challenge – just got to do a good job of executing
"We know what's on the line. So, you already know the mentality that comes with that. Washington's a great team. Our division is great this year. So, we know what this game means, and we're doing our best to prepare for that."
*The Giants are 22-31-1 on Sunday night, including 11-18-1 on the road. They lost their last two Sunday night games at Dallas in 2018 and vs. Cleveland two years ago. Their last Sunday night victory was in Denver on Oct. 15, 2017.
*The Giants are 3-3-1 vs. Washington on Sunday night, including 2-2-1 in the nation's capital.
*The Giants are 14-10-1 in FedExField.